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Talking without the resolutions

It was a wobbly start to the new-look National Association of Headteachers' annual conference with delegates complaining they had no voice this week in Torquay.

One seasoned conference-goer said: "I felt like a spectator at Pompeii. "

Their gripe was the new conference format which did away with outmoded features such as resolutions. New NAHT, they said, comprised presentation, discussion and possible policy.

"There's no direction, we're just meandering along, said Martin Fry, head of Charlton Kings junior, Cheltenham. In private session, the South West Region had attempted to reinstate previous practice and claimed the abstentions determined the outcome.

"A lot of those people are now coming up to us and are saying they now understood what we were grumbling about," said James Bishop, south-west regional secretary. As he was complaining, David Hart, the union's general secretary, apologised from the platform for the "teething problems". Other members of the leadership said the new system will bed down and already the quality of speeches had improved.

Rowie Shaw, director of professional services said: "We want to move from the traditional trade union position. . . but we don't want to lose the cut and thrust."

A more serious complaint came from the Wirral region over what they viewed as the pusillanimity of the NAHT over its refusal to take stronger action over the opposition to key stage 2 league tables.

Brian McNutt said the NAHT should take a more proactive stance and not depend upon the governors to refuse to forward the results. The union is concerned that it will become vulnerable to legal challenge. But in a letter, which all members will receive next week, the NAHT says if heads and governors were to act together the Government was unlikely to penalise governing bodies en masse.

The heads' call for governors to refuse to pass on test results was backed last week by the National Union of Teachers.

Other conference concerns included: lack of funding, the appalling state of school buildings, continuing problems with the national curriculum and violence against staff.

Change in conference format had been introduced amid feeling that debate was becoming "boring" because there was no dissent in the opposition to many of the Government's education policies.

Delegates demanded a national funding formula; attacked the nursery voucher scheme, warning it could spread throughout the rest of the system and were urged to seize back the curriculum "for the sake of the children".

Neil Thornley, head of Fearns High School, Bacup, said: "What does this Government want from us? It insults us, makes scapegoats out of teachers, consults at the speed of light and ignores what it hears.

"It is prepared to pay no heed to the haemorrhaging of talent leaving the profession. It has cut resources to the bone - and beyond in some cases. It constantly carps on about the small minority of teachers who let the side down and minimises the efforts of the vast majority.

"And it wonders why there is this underclass of young thugs - disillusioned, disaffected and dangerous - and then criticises teachers for permanently excluding those thugs from schools."

Simon Marsh from St Mary Magdalene primary in the London borough of Islington, meanwhile, was concerned with more life-threatening issues - the administration of medicines including rectal valium for severe epilepsy by heads and deputies.

"For the safety of our children and for the protection of our members we must make it clear that no head or deputy must be made responsible for what is not our responsibility."

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